New preschool to open in Woody Creek as Aspen childcare officials address demand
With long preschool waitlists and child care officials expecting a valleywide baby boom within the next few years, Aspen parents find may find relief in knowing a new preschool is set to open in time for the 2016-17 school year.
Christina Holloway of the Cottage School will resign as director at the end of the academic year to open her own child care center, Woody Creek Kids, for children between the ages of 21/2 and 5.
Woody Creek Kids will operate in the building of the former Aspen Community Preschool, which closed its doors after 26 years in August.
Holloway intends to sign a five-year lease on the space, located at 340 Woody Creek Mesa, through the community school.
The new Aspen preschool will help alleviate demand for child care services locally, said Shirley Ritter, who serves as the director for the city of Aspen’s child care arm, Kids First.
However, one new school won’t solve the need, Ritter said.
During an Aspen City Council work session April 18, Ritter told the council that she anticipates a 35 percent baby boom within the next five years.
Ritter’s estimation is based on the results of a Kids First survey that took place Feb. 10 to March 4 and involved 535 respondents, along with data that Kids First has collected from every licensed child care program in Pitkin County for the past year and a half.
According to this information, child care service in Pitkin County averages at 96 percent full, Ritter said Thursday.
“That’s really, really high,” she said. “And a really hard average to maintain.”
Ritter said that at some preschools, the number of families on the waitlist exceeds the school’s total number of spots.
The issue of adding child care services in the valley is “expensive, complicated and going to take a variety of people to help solve,” Ritter said.
“But what Christina’s doing will absolutely help, and I feel very strongly that parents should have choices about what’s best for their child and their family.”
Woody Creek Kids will fit as many as 32 children split between two classrooms — one for 21/2 to 4-year-olds and one for 4- and 5-year-olds — each day, Holloway said.
She hopes to hire three or four staff members in time for Woody Creek Kids’ Aug. 25 opening.
According to Ritter, Holloway has looked closely at some of the reasons behind Aspen Community Preschool’s closure and is prepared to resolve those issues.
Holloway identified the former preschool’s shorter operating hours and lack of transportation as the main factors that led to its drop in enrollment and eventual closing.
To accommodate this need, Woody Creek Kids will offer longer hours as well as a bus service to and from town.
“Knowing there’s such a shortage of slots, I want to be able to offer another high-quality child care option for parents to choose,” Holloway said. “I love working with young children and want to be an advocate for them.”
Holloway has spent most of her adult life working with young children, with roots in Aspen child care that run deep.
On the Monday following her 1997 Aspen High School graduation, Holloway started working at the Early Learning Center preschool.
She went on to work at Aspen Skiing Co.’s former employee child care center and in 2001 was a founding member of Roaring Fork Kids, which later merged with the Early Learning Center.
After having children of her own, Holloway opened Aspen Mountain Tots, an infant-toddler program where she worked from 2005 to 2010 until she started working at the Cottage School.
Aspen School District Assistant Superintendent Tom Heald said Holloway has done an admirable job in her time serving as the preschool’s director.
Under Holloway’s leadership, the Cottage expanded its child care service and was accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children — “a rigorous accreditation to earn,” Heald said.
“Christina’s boundless energy will be missed,” he said. “And we wish her well in her new endeavor.”
Holloway invites the community to an open house of the preschool sometime in mid-August.
For more information on Woody Creek Kids, visit the preschool’s Facebook page, WoodyCreekKids, or email Holloway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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With the likelihood that some level of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings will still be in place come Mountain Fair weekend, July 23-25, organizers are taking some aspects of the fair to the streets and elsewhere around town.